Discovering Retail: Martin Otto’s path to H-E-B

Written by Zoya Saxena

A few weeks ago the Canfield BHP class of 2022 had the opportunity to meet the Chief Operating Officer of H-E-B, Martin Otto, during its Honors Business Lyceum. Students had the chance to ask questions and listen to Otto speak on a variety of topics such as his career path, time at H-E-B, and the company culture Otto is proud to be a part of. 

Otto began by detailing his career path, highlighting his time beginning in accounting and then moving to real estate. It was not until Otto was in the process of completing his MBA at Harvard when he took his first retail class. “I loved it,” he said.

Since then, Otto has been with H-E-B for a little over 28 years. When asked about what kept him at the company for so long, he expanded on H-E-B’s inclusive and people-centric company culture.  

“The company is truly focused on serving customers and the community,” Otto said. “H-E-B is a wonderful place to be.”

Over the course of the seminar, Otto also took the time to articulate why he wanted to come speak to Canfield BHP students. He said he wants to encourage students to really “figure out what (they) want to do” and help those students who may not want to “follow the traditional path.” Otto went on to say that if he was not thinking deeply about his career, he may not have ended up with a fulfilling job at such a great company. 

Otto recognized the caliber of the students and the quality of education in the Canfield BHP program. “Y’all have a great school and great students,” said Otto.  He went on to state that if he had to do it all over again, he would choose Canfield BHP. 

Otto encouraged students to make full use of the resources available to them at UT and be proud of the program in which they have been admitted. Furthermore, Otto emphasized the importance of curiosity and hard work. 

He said, “Smart people are not a dime a dozen, but there are a lot of smart people in this world. There are not enough people in the world who work hard enough, to be curious enough to ask the 100th question to be excellent.” 

Otto’s advice revolved primarily on putting thought into the career process. He said students should work to understand their passions so that they’re working on something they love once they enter the workplace.

“My advice to you is to figure out what you want to do. I could have shortened that process (of finding my career path of choice) had I known retail was out there.” Otto said.

Sign Up! Connect with the Canfield BHP Alumni Mentor Network

The Canfield BHP Alumni Mentor Network is a program that connects alumni to Canfield BHP sophomores and juniors. It is an opportunity for current students to be mentored by alumni based on similar academic and/or professional interests. Canfield BHP alumni come from a variety of professional fields and many go on to top medical schools, law schools, MBA programs, and other graduate programs. Alumni mentors may provide advice to students on major and career exploration, career and/or graduate school preparation, professional development and balancing school, career and outside interests.

If you’re interested to learn more, read on to explore how both mentors and mentees describe their experiences in the network. Below, mentor Seth Gideon and mentee, Canfield BHP junior Carrie Cruces, describe their experiences from both sides of the network. We also hear from mentor Neo Nanna who paired with his mentee, Canfield BHP junior Jessie Meek. Sign up for the Canfield BHP Alumni Mentoring Network to begin your mentorship today!


Seth Gideon headshotMENTOR: Seth Gideon, Canfield BHP/MPA ’18, Investment Banking Analyst at J.P. Morgan

What have you gained from being part of the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Being on both sides of the Alumni Mentoring Network, I have been able to see firsthand the impact mentors have on mentees. Whether it’s offering you life advice, putting you in touch with other Canfield BHP alum or giving you tips on how to pass certain classes, the Alumni Mentoring Network is very rewarding. Back at UT, my mentor and I would hop on the phone once a month to chat and update each other on our lives. At that time I was applying to a grad school program and my mentor happened to be in that program. She told me her perspective on the school, offered me advice on the GMAT, helped me with my application and answered every question I threw her way. That’s why the program is so special because we help each other out. Now, being on the other side, my job is to help out my mentee as best as I can and take the things I learned from my mentor and use them with my mentee. It’s also great to stay up-to-date on McCombs/UT.

What topics do you and your student mentee discuss?

We discuss a variety of topics whether its educational, work-related, social or personal. When recruiting kicks off we dive deep into best practices and tips to navigate the recruiting intricacies. When the semester kicks off we discuss the best classes to take, etc.

What advice do you offer current students?

Definitely, take advantage of this program. There are Canfield BHP alum around the country who have been in your exact shoes that can help you succeed. We’ve all made a ton of mistakes and it’s nice to hear someone on the other side of the phone who understands what you’ve been through. And of course, don’t spend too much time in NRG. When you look back at your college memories you rarely remember your late nights studying – go to that football, basketball, volleyball game, etc.

Why should other alumni join the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Just to add on from above, it also helps bridge the gap between fellow Canfield BHPers irrespective of age. We’ve all been through or will go through much of the same classes, recruiting and high-stress situations. Not to mention it also gives students an informal method to be themselves and ask the “dumb” questions.

Carrie Cruces HeadshotMENTEE: Carrie Cruces, junior Canfield BHP/MPA

What have you gained from being part of the Alumni Mentoring Network?

I have gained a lot of knowledge and confidence from being matched with an alum who did the same major as I am in but is also doing the same career I want to do. It can be difficult to approach people you don’t know, but talking to current professionals in the industry is the best way to gather honest information about it and determine whether it’s right for you and your skills. I’m much more confident in my career choices as I recruit now, and I wouldn’t know half as much if I hadn’t been matched with an alumni mentor.

What topics do you and your alumni mentor discuss?

My mentor and I discussed both academic and professional topics. He gave me a lot of information about how to structure my course and workload throughout the different phases of college, what classes and professors to take, and which majors would be best for the career I’m interested in. He also gave me a good overview of what my recruiting timeline would look like and advice for each step of the way.

How has your alumni mentor helped you develop professionally?

My alumni mentor gave me good advice for both technical and behavioral interviews, as well as providing me other contacts to reach out to. This not only helped me expand my network, but I was able to learn even more about different areas and companies within my industry of interest.

Why should other students join the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Everyone should join the Alumni Mentoring Network to expand their professional network and learn more about careers they are interested in. It’s the best way to get the most relevant recruiting and career advice because it’s coming from someone who recently recruited and is currently working in your field of interest. The Alumni Mentoring Committee does a great job of matching students to alumni based on both academic and career interests.

Neo Nanna headshotMENTOR: Neo Nanna, Canfield BHP/Finance and Psychology ’17, Associate Consultant at The Bridgespan Group

What have you gained from being part of the Alumni Mentoring Network?

When I was a student, the most enriching aspect of the Alumni Network was the perspective I gained from hearing about what was possible after graduation. I knew that I wanted to pursue business-related opportunities for socially-driven enterprises, but was unclear about how to break into the social sector given that is an uncommon route. I was fortunate enough to be paired with an alumna that worked at an international education not-for-profit and charter school network which helped me visualize just how feasible that pathway can be. Hearing her insight about her career led me to make my slow, but intentional move into social impact work. As an alumnus, the Alumni Mentoring Network allows me to impart similar knowledge about my experiences in undergrad and beyond for current students navigating their time at UT.

What topics do you and your student mentee discuss?

For our first meeting, my mentees and I had the opportunity to meet in person where we spent time getting acquainted and familiar with one another. We’ve discussed how to set goals personally and professionally, how to refine interests into different majors and concentrations, and how to map those interests into a potential career path. As we have continued our relationship, I check in to see how they are doing at the start of the semester and where I can plug in, whether that is serving as a sounding board or providing assistance in connecting them to resources to learn more about an opportunity.

What advice do you offer current students?

Two things: First, I would surround yourself with people who intellectually challenge you, push you to be better, and support you wholeheartedly in your personal life. Even after graduation, I have continued to rely on my Canfield BHP peers for advice to test my thinking concerning my professional development and for emotional support; both have proven to be invaluable as I continue to grow. Second, if you have atypical interests that may not align with the stereotypical profile of a business student, continue to follow those passions either in your full-time pursuits or in extracurricular activities. It is important to recognize that your cohorts’ career paths will look drastically different after college ends, and I think those unique qualities, skills, and interests you carry will pay off in the long-run for personal and professional reasons.

Why should other alumni join the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Most individuals I know that have graduated from the Business Honors Program would not be where they are today without the mentorship of their more senior peers, so why not begin to foster those relationships for people who wish to learn from you? As alumni, the Alumni Mentoring Network gives you a chance to actively reflect on your experiences in school and your growth after your time at UT.  Those insights can really help guide and shape a students’ professional and personal life, especially since that information is coming from the perspective of someone who has been in their shoes not too long ago.

Jessie Meek headshotMENTEE: Jessie Meek, junior Canfield BHP/Marketing and Educational Psychology minor

What have you gained from being part of the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Through the Alumni Mentoring Network, I have gained valuable career advice, clarity in my decision making, and a kind, helpful, and experienced Canfield BHPeer to help me figure out the age-old question of “what I want to be when I grow up.” Having been the student that finds every subject interesting, choosing a major and a career path proved daunting. If it were not for Neo’s ability to piece together my passions, his knowledge of the industry, and his expansive network of Canfield BHPhriends, I would still be thinking about being a tennis coach by day, pop singer by night, and children’s book author on the side!

What topics do you and your alumni mentor discuss?

Neo and I are both very people-oriented and mission-driven. I have had the absolute pleasure to hear and be inspired by the way Neo has positively impacted the world through his work. I am lucky to have a mentor who knows what it means to be impactful and thus can effectively direct me toward the right career where I will be given the ability to do what I love – to serve others.

How has your alumni mentor helped you develop professionally?

When I first met with Neo, I was pursuing a career as an accountant. Neo was the first person who questioned this decision of mine, and I am so glad he did. After fumbling through an answer, it became quite clear that I was following that path for all the wrong reasons and that with my current interests and health situation, being an accountant just wasn’t the right option. After this, I stopped, thought critically, and redirected my ambition toward a profession where I would be able to be more successful and be my best self. In addition, Neo has offered advice on places to recruit, supplied me with a rough career plan, and connected me with people in his network. Neo is always ready to help.

Why should other students join the Alumni Mentoring Network?

Simply put: all Canfield BHP students should join because alumni have so much to offer and we have so much to learn. For those students who are not entirely sure what they want to do (like I was) and even for those that have a path, our mentors KNOW what to do, how to help, and who to talk to – they can help connect you and get you where you will be the most successful! The Alumni Mentoring Network is a depiction of the incredible Canfield BHP culture we experience daily: people who are willing and wanting to help because they too received help when they were in our shoes and they know we will pay it forward.

On Diversity & Inclusion at McKinsey & Company by CBHP Alum Nicole Chu


Nicole Chu

Major
: BBA Canfield BHP, Management Information Systems; BA Plan II Honors

Graduated: 2016

Current Employer: McKinsey & Company

Current Title: Senior Business Analyst, currently doing a fellowship with McKinsey’s All In, Diversity & Inclusion team

The summer after my freshman year at UT, I participated in the BBA Business Law program in Edinburgh. People often claim that studying abroad can be a transformative experience–and for me, it was. I loved exploring Scotland, I met great friends, and–in the middle of a lecture on torts–it dawned on me that, contrary to what I’d believed for years, I didn’t want to go to law school.

So, in the fall of my sophomore year, I went back to the drawing board on careers. Looking back, I discovered consulting almost by accident. I took a summer internship at a consulting firm not knowing what to expect. That’s where I discovered that consulting involved many things I’d loved about the idea of practicing law–client service, critical thinking, and crafting narratives. I also fell in love with the collaborative nature of the work and the fact that it often required quantitative analysis (I’ve always been a data geek at heart).

For my post-junior year internship, I narrowed my focus to consulting. I spent that next summer as an intern with McKinsey’s Houston office. For ten weeks, I worked with an amazing team helping a retail client develop its five-year growth strategy. When I received an offer to return to McKinsey after graduation, I signed it on the spot.

I’m now starting my fourth year at McKinsey. I spent three years serving Consumer Packaged Goods and Retail clients across a range of topics, often gravitating toward analytical projects. On one team, I built a model to forecast the growth of key product categories based on industry trends, and on another, I designed a new organizational structure for a client merging siloed salesforces. Beyond my client work, I led Business Analyst diversity recruiting efforts at UT and for our Houston office.

Two months ago, I was offered a chance to marry two passions–interpreting data and advancing diversity–by joining McKinsey’s All In, Diversity & Inclusion team. In my current role, I apply the skills I developed as a client consultant to support McKinsey’s own strategy and initiatives for advancing gender parity, diversity, and inclusion.

Students often ask why I joined McKinsey and why I’ve stayed. For me, three things stand out:

  1. Emphasis on diversity and inclusion. McKinsey’s groundbreaking research establishes a compelling business case for gender and ethnic diversity; it also informs our approach to improving diversity and gender parity in our own firm and beyond. We have vibrant affinity groups for LGBTQ+ and black professionals, as well as U.S. networks for Hispanic/Latinx colleagues and Asian/Asian-American colleagues. We are also proud champions of the UN Women HeForShe campaign. I am inspired every day to be part of a team dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion within our firm and furthering the conversation around the world.
  2. Caring colleagues. At McKinsey, I feel supported as a whole person. Teammates celebrate my successes and help me through tough times. I have a set of close mentors – some assigned, like my professional development manager, and others that I met on teams or at office events–who I can call anytime to talk through a challenging problem or figure out what to choose for my next project. My colleagues have also been there for me outside of work. In April, I unexpectedly had to take short-term health leave, and the support I felt was incredible, from McKinsey HR to my colleagues, who checked in regularly and helped me navigate my return to the firm. I’ve made lifelong friends here, and it’s reassuring to know they have my back at the office and beyond.
  3. Strengths-based mentorship. Many people come to McKinsey excited to grow professionally, and mentorship is deeply ingrained in our culture. That said, I was surprised at how strengths-based our feedback culture is. Prior to McKinsey, I tended to fixate on constructive “things to improve” feedback and gloss over any praise. At McKinsey, we believe people should build on their strengths to become distinctive leaders, which is why feedback sessions always start with what I am doing well and how to take those skills to the next level. During my years with the firm, I’ve had incredible McKinsey mentors who have helped me recognize my strengths. Not only that, but they also actively created opportunities for me to lean into those skills, and I’ve grown exponentially–personally and professionally–as a result.

For any UT students interested in learning more, feel free to drop me a note (and please forgive any delay in responses).

Hook ‘em,

Nicole Chu

Alumni Spotlight: Aaras Shah

Aaras Shah is the Associate Director of Finance at Zeta Charter Schools, an organization whose mission is to build and sustain high-performing schools that forge thriving communities of lifelong learners, problem solvers, and innovators. At Zeta, Aaras leads budgeting, accounting, and financial analysis for the organization. Previously, he worked at Bain & Company as a Senior Associate Consultant where he focused on strategy and cost-work for Fortune 500 clients across a variety of industries. Aaras got his start working with charter schools at KIPP DC as a Strategic Projects Extern supporting their academic team. He graduated from McCombs in 2015 with degrees in Canfield BHP and finance. We caught up with Aaras recently and talked about his experiences at Zeta and how Canfield BHP helped prepare him for his journey.

Tell us a little bit about your current role at Zeta Charter Schools.

Zeta is a startup charter school network in New York City. We opened our first schools this past fall and have a very ambitious growth plan. I came on as the first full-time financial employee to help build our finance function. As part of that, I do everything across the board, from the smallest tasks to helping define our biggest strategic goals. That involves everything from ensuring we have enough money in our bank account and paying our vendors on-time to developing our current year and long-term financial budgets. In real estate – as we look to grow our network – we need to find buildings to accommodate our students, so I’ve been working on a number of real estate deals since I’ve been out here – just generally overseeing all things financially with the organization. Being in a startup, I’m also involved in a variety of different initiatives across the board just because that’s basically how start-ups work. I’ve helped set up our procurement system, developed our data dashboards, assisted with hiring, and even spent time tutoring some of the first graders in math. I basically have the opportunity to help out in many aspects beyond just what my title might imply.

What were/are your inspirations and how did it lead you to where you are today?

Growing up, my family always placed a large emphasis on education. My older sister is also a UT graduate. She went into education for her career and that sparked my interest. While at UT I was involved with Texas Blazers, an organization that worked very closely with a local underprivileged high school. I got to see firsthand some of the disparities in education between my own and others. My interest grew through those experiences, and as I spent my time at Bain – although I didn’t focus on the social impact of education necessarily – I stayed involved through consistent volunteering or pro-bono project work. After a few years at Bain, I had the opportunity to take an externship in that space and that’s how I found myself at KIPP in Washington, DC. There I knew I wanted to jump in full time, both because there was a lot of opportunity and because I felt confident that I could make a difference. I then stumbled upon Zeta, which seemed like a great fit and was actually recommended to me by another former Canfield BHP student. Since I’ve been here, being able to see that we’re making a difference in students’ lives everyday has reaffirmed my interest in working in education long-term.

What do you enjoy most about working for an organization like Zeta Charter Schools?

The most important thing is the mission. That vision is really powerful and inspirational to me and I see plenty of that in what our teachers are doing and in what our school leaders are doing. I think that the opportunity to be working in an organization that’s so focused on such a mission is pretty powerful. Combining that with the team they put together and the level of responsibility that I’ve been able to take on has made it a great role. It’s been an incredible challenge but it’s something that I have felt prepared for thanks in large part to my time spent at Canfield BHP.

How do you think your BHP and Finance degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?

Tactically, just through the finance coursework, it’s brought me a lot of familiarity with many of the responsibilities that I oversee. When building our budget, I’m reminded by what the power of compounding will do to our expenses over time based on my practice with financial modeling from MIS301 with Professor Konana. Those are some of the basics that I got more tactically. Then, there’s the fact that my job is not just restricted to finance. That’s where having that really strong, general business background has made a huge difference because I can go back to the lessons I learned in BA324 when I’m focused on helping out with hiring, for example. I can think about MIS when helping out with our data dashboards, or operations when I’m thinking about procurement, so having a general business background has just been incredibly valuable. Beyond that – the emphasis on teamwork and team projects – that really drove learning how to communicate with others who may have different priorities than you or different backgrounds. Getting that experience in all of my Canfield BHP classes has been so valuable and relevant to working in this type of role.

Any advice for current students?

It’s easy to get caught up in seeing how everyone seems to have what they’re doing “figured out” so early on. Whether that’s the exact professional interest or even something like getting an internship early, I think that you’ll find that with the skills you’re developing and the relationships you’re creating within Canfield BHP – if you allow yourself to explore what you like – you’re going to be able to make a pretty good career out of it and you’ll be able to make a big impact in whatever it is that you do. Don’t stress out so much about how everyone else has their stuff together because you’re going to do just fine with the education that you’re getting right now.

Alumni Spotlight: Phil Canfield

In the thirty years since Phil Canfield graduated from the University of Texas with degrees in Business Honors and Finance, much has changed in the world, in Austin, and on our campus. We begin our conversation discussing the increasing number of hipsters in the city (we are meeting during SXSW, after all) and then move into talking about the dynamic relationship between artificial intelligence and business. Despite this rapid evolution, Mr. Canfield agrees that one thing has remained constant: The caliber of the Business Honors Program and the benefit of receiving a Business Honors degree.

“The BHP was a small group within a large university, which allowed for teamwork and the ability for us to have a small cohort of really bright students that I could work with, learn from, test ideas out, and play ideas off of each other. It was seamless going from that environment to sitting at a desk at Kidder, Peabody, and Co. working on financial models and being part of a deal team,” Mr. Canfield shares. Throughout our conversation, we keep coming back to this theme of the strong relationships students build with each other through their time in the program. He believes these tightknit relationships are one part of what make the honors program unique. “It’s not just the friendships, it’s also learning how to work with other people,” he says. “Also, the faculty. Those are the two things that make a great learning experience: A great group of engaged students whom you know and build relationships with combined with a faculty that pushes you, teaches you things that perhaps weren’t intuitive, that surprise you, and importantly, a faculty that is doing research in areas that are going to be important for the future.”

Mr. Canfield vividly remembers being pushed and challenged in his honors classes. When asked about his favorite memory, he laughs and says he doesn’t have a favorite memory, but he definitely has a class that he remembers the most. “I think everybody who comes to BHP is used to making A’s. So, we had this Operations Research class, and I remember about 4 weeks into the class, I was sitting with my group of 5 or 6 friends that we studied with and 2 or 3 of them really got it in a way that I didn’t. And I realized that I wasn’t going to get it. It was the only class at UT in my entire 4 years where I said, ‘You know what, I think I’m shooting for a B in this class.’ And it’s so funny because I think about that all the time; it’s the only time I’ve ever just stepped back and said, ‘Wow, there’s something about the way that they think that’s different than the way I think. This makes sense to them and this is really hard for me.’”

Mr. Canfield believes the difficulties that honors students face together, like challenging courses, are what allow the close friendships to form. “BHP is an intense program. Any time a group of people go through something with that intensity together, they create a bond. The great thing about bonds like that is they really stand the test of time.” As an example, he recalls calling his BHP peers when it came time for him to think about what he was going to do after his first two years in investment banking. “It was useful for me to be able to call friends of mine who I had this shared experience with,” he says. “At the time, most people only worked for two years and then went and got an MBA, and I was thinking about not doing that. That’s a big decision, it’s the kind of decision where there aren’t that many people you can really talk to about it.”

After two years at Kidder, Peabody, and Co., Mr. Canfield joined GTCR, a private equity firm. After two years as an associate there, he started thinking about getting his MBA. “At the time in private equity, there were very few people who did not have an MBA. I felt like as long as I stayed on track at GTCR, working with people I knew and who knew what I was capable of doing, things would probably be fine; but I had this nagging concern that there was more that I could know, so I decided to pursue an MBA.” Mr. Canfield started at the University of Chicago Booth School on a part-time basis, working full-time during the day and taking classes in the evening. “That didn’t last too long,” he chuckles. Eventually, he took two quarters off from work to finish his degree.

Reflecting on his experience in the MBA program, he recalls how prepared he was for the curriculum and how his past BHP classes allowed him to customize his MBA degree. “I was incredibly well-prepared. In fact, I got to skip a lot of the intro-level, first-year MBA classes. The neat thing about that was that it enabled me to quickly go to the higher-level classes and get a dual concentration in finance and accounting. I probably would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have the BHP background. The BHP enabled me to get a more broad experience when I did decide to go get an MBA, and it allowed me to tailor that experience more to what I felt I needed for my career.”

Mr. Canfield is now a successful Managing Director at GTCR, a leadership position he has held since 2007. He and his wife Mary Beth are also devoted philanthropists who focus on education. In November 2018, we celebrated the official naming of the Canfield Business Honors Program in the McCombs School of Business after a generous donation from the Canfields. They believe that contributing to education has the highest return on investment. “In my deepest part of my heart and soul, I’m an investor. I think, ‘Let’s do something early, let’s make an investment, let’s put capital into something, and then let’s see that have a return over a long period of time.’ For me, investing in someone’s education is exactly the same thing. I’ve always felt like it’s really important for our society to support getting everyone an opportunity to have a great education. I also think it’s a great investment that enables people to do something really fantastic.”

In closing, Mr. Canfield offers the following words of advice for our current students: “Enjoy the experience, but also make sure that whatever you choose to concentrate in, really make sure you focus on the fundamentals of that concentration.” He talks about Novak Djokovic, the best tennis player in the world, and how he drills and works the fundamentals with a hitting partner and his coach. “Why does he do that?  Because those fundamental skills need to happen automatically. If your concentration is accounting, then you need to work on it so hard that it is just intuitive to you. The test of knowing the fundamentals in a particular topic is you can look at a problem that you’ve never seen anything like it before, and you can intuit how it must have to work. That’s when you know you really understand it at the detailed level and the abstract level because you can take all the stuff you know about that particular topic and say, ‘Well, I’ve never seen this particular area before, but it must work this way.’ In business, to succeed in your career, you need to be functioning at that level.”

He also has some advice for prospective Canfield BHP students that we wholeheartedly agree with: “You should come here because it’s the best undergraduate business program in the country. You will learn a tremendous amount, you’ll make great friends, and it will serve you very well in your career.”

Watch the video celebrating the newly named Canfield Business Honors Program here.